Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Rome Contra Mundum...Again!


The Vatican has decreed that in his upcoming visit to Great Britain Pope Benedict XVI will use Latin for the preface and canon in each mass he says in public. Now, there are certainly things in the canon of the mass that are more offensive to the Gospel than the use of Latin to intone them is, but for the moment let's set them aside and ask why has this decision been made? According to the Vatican official charged with such responsibilities, the purpose is to give expression to the universality of the faith of the (Roman) church. But this seems passing strange, since Latin is hardly a universal language anymore - even in the Roman church - and arguments to the contrary usually just prove the fact! And, in any case, catholicity or universality of the faith is expressed by being one in the Gospel, not by worshipping in the same tongue, which seems to be the implication of this move.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for reclaiming the knowledge and usage of Latin, not least because a working knowledge of the language is highly desirable for the Lutheran pastor who subscribes to confessional documents written in Latin. But we are talking about liturgical language here, which is something quite different. As the Anglican Articles of Religion so aptly put it, it is "repugnant to the Word of God, and the custom of the Primitive Church to have public Prayer in the Church, or to minister the Sacraments, in a tongue not understanded of the people". To be sure, the Lutheran Church was initially more conservative in its approach to the language question in worship than the Church of England, retaining Latin in some places, particularly university towns, but introducing German hymns and an optional, simplified German mass for the common people. But the same principle which the Anglican articles later espoused was made clear in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession: the purpose of worship - to "conceive faith and fear of God, and obtain comfort, and thus also... pray" - was thwarted when it was not conducted in a language understood by the common people, and the belief that the words of the Divine Service were effective ex opere operato , by the mere hearing without understanding, was denounced as "a Pharisaic opinion".

But, evangelical concerns aside, the strangest thing here is surely the irony attached to intoning the most sacred parts of the Roman mass in a language that few present will understand without the aid of a translated text before them, for the purpose of expressing universality, in the very homeland of the language which over the last several hundred years has conquered the world and become its true universal language, displacing Latin and every other contender (i.e. French!) in the process. Evidently the irony in this is something of which the Vatican is entirely oblivious.

Yet another example of Rome contra mundum on the wrong issue...again!

[Yes, I am aware that contra mundum is Latin :0).]

Postscript 6.10.10
Actually, setting the irony aside for the moment, I'm quite happy the Pope decided to recite the canon in Latin on his UK trip; it at least means that many who watched the Masses either on TV or live didn't get to hear the terrible prayers which turn the sacrament into a sacrifice.

20 comments:

Matthias said...

Is this Pope taking the RCC back to the future?

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Maybe, but last time I checked the Popemobile was not a De Lorean.

Dan at Necessary Roughness said...

Ex opera operato.

Hocus pocus.

Anonymous said...

might the decision be based on the universality of the hierarchy, i.e. all the bishops in communion with Rome?

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Not sure what you mean, anon (don't be afraid to leave your name, we're a friendly bunch here at th eold manse).

Dan,
Yes, 'hoc est corpus meum'! I think the confessions have in mind, in the comment I refer to, the "hearing of mass" (as RCs like to say) without the understanding of it, and the belief that such a hearing is meritorious.

Anonymous said...

sorry about not being clear...

"might the decision be based on the universality of the hierarchy, i.e. all the bishops in communion with Rome?"

I was referring to the use of Latin as the universal language of the "church." The bishops in communion with the pope are the "church." I assume the bishops speak the church's language--Latin. Therefore, the "whole church" understands what is being said.

Dan Pharr
San Francisco

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Hi Dan @ San Francisco,

I see, yes, that way of thinking could be reflected in the decision. The Roman church does see Latin as the language of the church.

The problem with this, as I see it, is that few RCs outside the priesthood understand Latin, even fewer folk from other churches do, and it is thus appears as a very Rome-centric view that fails to take into account the plurality of ethnicities and languages in the church, not to mention the glorious history of English as a liturgical language.

Thanks for dropping by. Come again!

Joshua said...

I have so many times read the Canon through in Latin while at Mass, or studied it, etc., that I know it almost by heart, and would certainly notice a word mispronounced or out of place - and this applies to the Eucharistic Prayers in English in their current form at least also. Because of this, I find the praying of the Canon in Latin actually a deeper experience of prayer.

I think it silly to twit the Pope for praying in Latin when Luther much urged Latin to be retained for the desiderata you mention yourself, yea, Luther also wished that the same might be done in Greek and Hebrew.

As a friend of mine told me, he was in Hanoi for Christmas in 1945 as part of the Allied forces receiving the japanese surrender, and in the Cathedral there he sang Credo in unum Deum with every people under heaven: Englishmen, Frenchmen, Vietnamese, Chinese, even Japanese... this to him, down all the years, is his symbol of the universality of Catholic communion.

John Weidner said...

"Rome-centric view that fails to take into account the plurality of ethnicities and languages in the church"

Actually, the point of Latin was always the opposite of Rome-centric. (The language used in the Vatican is Italian.) We Catholics used to be able go to Mass anywhere in the world, any time, and feel right at home. With your missal you could always see your vernacular side-by-side with the Latin. Plus the ordinaries of the Mass (the parts that don't change on different days) are not that long, and one soon came to just know them.

And the Church never officially discarded Latin. Rather, a storm of deconstruction swept over the Church in the 60's and turned us into a Tower of Babel. The Pope is trying, gently but persistently, to nudge us back towards greater unity.

"I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose." (1 Corinthians 1:1)

John Weidner, also in San Francisco

John Weidner said...

Ooops, I meant 1 Cor 1:10.

(I hope you don't mind a Catholic butting in here. But as a former Baptist (and one very grateful for my Evangelical upbringing) I find misunderstandings of Catholicism endlessly fascinating.)

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Hi John & Josh,

No, I don't mind Catholics butting in, John, your comments are most welcome (as long as you're polite and don't express a desire to burn Lutheran heretics at the stake, as a previous Catholic commenter did! You'll understand why I had to eject him from the old manse). I'm always grateful for new readers and commenters, even if we're likely to disagree on much, perhaps we can disabuse each other of genuine misunderstandings.

John and Josh, with respect, you both seem to have missed my point, which is the irony of opting to say the canon in Latin in the name of universality in the very nation which has given us our present-day universal language. Thus 'Rome contra mundum' again. It is disappointing to see these developments in light of the intention of Vatican II to renew the sacred liturgy through the introduction of the vernacular. That the execution of the translations has not always been the best and that vernacular masses have often been the occasion of ill-conceived experimentation does not negate the correctness of the principles that VII set forth - 'abusus non tollit usum', a fact which many conservative Catholics seem not to understand.

In any case, I suspect you both harbour a sentimental attachment to Latin - I can understand that, of course, but I cannot agree with it. In a theological sense, universality is expressed by confessing the one, true faith in many languages, not by using the one language for worship, but in my experience many conservative Catholics who yearn for a return to the (Latin) past find this impossible to conceive.

Well, thanks for dropping by the old manse - do come again.

John Weidner said...

Mark,

I think we will just have to agree to disagree. I think you are criticizing the Church for not being Protestant. Protestant faith is all about words, and getting words right. (I can dig that; I grew up that way. And it's not all wrong,) But the Church is a wedding banquet, not a conversation.

Just to clarify, I do have a certain sentimental (and practical) attachment to Latin, but zero interest in returning to the past. I'm very much a futurist, and I value the Catholic Church to a great extent because it is the one institution in all of history that is adaptable--meaning able to adapt yet remain the same.

Joshua said...

No, not a merely sentimental, emotional attachment to Latin - though I do mainly say my prayers in Latin, and prefer Mass in Latin. It is precisely as a sure and firm expression of the faith once delivered to the saints that I prefer the age-old tongue: to hear the prayers as Gregory prayed them; to pray the Psalms as Jerome read them... Obviously, it would be good to have sufficient Greek and Hebrew to read the Scriptures in the original, but I must plead incapacity in that regard. (I do know a monk who reads along in his Greek N.T. when passages are read in the Mass and Office.)

I think perhaps you may not know that in England it is more common for the Mass to be celebrated in Latin: for instance, at the Oratories (as in London and Oxford) where the Sunday Mass is in Latin except for the readings and some hymns. Certainly the large congregation present seemed very pleased to worship God in such wise. Similarly, the singing of the Ordinary of the Mass in Latin (and Greek for the Kyrie) is hardly an issue, since the words are known in the vernacular also, and thus the meaning is clear.

After all, as I mentioned, most churchgoers now know the Eucharistic Prayers, etc., in English, since Mass is mainly offered up in the vernacular, and so when they hear it in Latin they therefore can have a "stereophonic" experience, so to speak. An analogy would be the difference between a merely spoken and a sung service. There is a numinous quality that helps people realize that what is going on is of profound and holy richness - the secret action of grace and of God's most sacred presence, which is the awe-ful truth that we can easily forget.

Recall also that people commonly bring missals with them, which will have the texts in one or more languages, and likewise bulletins and inserts are available: it is hardly a matter of a dumb show before uncomprehending dolts, rather the use of a sacral language is quite deliberately designed to foster prayer... I think there is something here in human words corresponding to the mysterium tremendum et fascinans that Ott famously discussed.

Similarly, when in Italy, though I don't speak Italian, I could attend Mass and follow the most important part of the service, since I know the Ordinary of the Mass and could recognize the parts being prayed.

And as you remarked, it is after all the one faith being articulated in whatever language the service is being celebrated.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

John,
But surely words are important in both traditions? Else why Joshua's insistence on Latin because of its precision? I think you're overplaying your hand there.
And, in any case, we Lutherans know all about the Divine Service being a wedding banquet and not a conversation (although surely conversation takes place at a wedding banquest??); one of our common settings of the liturgy contains the hymnic refrain "This is the feast of victory for our God."
John, I can't help but think you're confusing us Lutherans with the Reformed or indeed your own former Baptist brothers ( a common error of Catholics). We are quite different, and have preserved much of the historic liturgical practices of the ancient and medieval church. In our church, for example, we have sung (or chanted) liturgy most Sundays, vestments, candles on the altar, as well as a crucifix. And, of course, we believe in the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in teh sacrament of the altar. We are not Baptists!

Joshua,
Thanks for the extended comment, I appreciate your passion for Latin. You should study NT Greek, you'll enjoy it, and you can then see for yourself where the Vulgate gets it wrong
;^)

Thanks guys, I've enjoyed the conversation. Drop by the old manse again.

John Weidner said...

You are correct, I was confusing Lutherans with the Evangelicals I was raised among. Apologies!

A curious effect of becoming Catholic has been that my middle years as an Episcopalian have evanesced, while my Baptist youth has come back to me with great vividness, and a great sense of its importance. But I should keep in mind the many flavors of Protestantism.

John Weidner said...

On the other hand, if someone writes:

"and the belief that the words of the Divine Service were effective ex opere operato , by the mere hearing without understanding, was denounced as "a Pharisaic opinion"

One would be justified in assuming that they do not believe in the Real Presence, (which is what happens ex opere operato). Or that they think that the Real Presence is something happens by the people understanding what is said. Which seems odd to me.

"the purpose of worship - to "conceive faith and fear of God, and obtain comfort, and thus also... pray" - was thwarted when it was not conducted in a language understood by the common people

That sounds much like what I grew up with. Worship = words. Worship = what happens in the listener's head. If they don't understand, nothing happens. My Baptist pastor could have written this same post.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Hi John,

You wrote: "One would be justified in assuming that they do not believe in the Real Presence, (which is what happens ex opere operato). Or that they think that the Real Presence is something happens by the people understanding what is said. Which seems odd to me."

Not really. You should read the Lutheran confessions on the real presence to understand those quotes in context, in particular the Smalcald Articles, which assert that teh real presence is objective. The polemic against an 'ex opere operato' understanding of the efficacy of the sacraments addresses not Rome's commitment to the objectivity of the sacraments, which is a concern we share, but rather the importance of faith for a beneficial reception of same. This is scriptural - without faith it is impossible to please God.

Then you wrote, "the purpose of worship - to "conceive faith and fear of God, and obtain comfort, and thus also... pray" - was thwarted when it was not conducted in a language understood by the common people

That sounds much like what I grew up with. Worship = words. Worship = what happens in the listener's head. If they don't understand, nothing happens. My Baptist pastor could have written this same post."

John, words are important in worship, in philosophical terms they are "speech acts" by which God ministers his grace to us, e.g. "I baptise you", "I absolve you", or "take and eat, this is by mody given for you". God spoke the cosmos into existence, and he speaks his grace to us, "how shall they believe if they do not hear?" "the word of God is living and active..." etc.

With the greatest respect, John, you seem to be in reaction against your Baptist past, which is colouring both your appreciation of aspects of Catholicism and also your understanding of what I am saying. That is perfectly understandable, as no-one can escape his shadow, but I suggest that we need to acccept what others say on their own terms in order for genuine understanding and dialogue to take place. Otherwise we end up just tilting at windmills.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Hi John,

You wrote: "One would be justified in assuming that they do not believe in the Real Presence, (which is what happens ex opere operato). Or that they think that the Real Presence is something happens by the people understanding what is said. Which seems odd to me."

Not really. You should read the Lutheran confessions on the real presence to understand those quotes in context, in particular the Smalcald Articles, which assert that teh real presence is objective. The polemic against an 'ex opere operato' understanding of the efficacy of the sacraments addresses not Rome's commitment to the objectivity of the sacraments, which is a concern we share, but rather the importance of faith for a beneficial reception of same. This is scriptural - without faith it is impossible to please God.

Then you wrote, "the purpose of worship - to "conceive faith and fear of God, and obtain comfort, and thus also... pray" - was thwarted when it was not conducted in a language understood by the common people

That sounds much like what I grew up with. Worship = words. Worship = what happens in the listener's head. If they don't understand, nothing happens. My Baptist pastor could have written this same post."

John, words are important in worship, in philosophical terms they are "speech acts" by which God ministers his grace to us, e.g. "I baptise you", "I absolve you", or "take and eat, this is by mody given for you". God spoke the cosmos into existence, and he speaks his grace to us, "how shall they believe if they do not hear?" "the word of God is living and active..." etc.

With the greatest respect, John, you seem to be in reaction against your Baptist past, which is colouring both your appreciation of aspects of Catholicism and also your understanding of what I am saying. That is perfectly understandable, as no-one can escape his shadow, but I suggest that we need to acccept what others say on their own terms in order for genuine understanding and dialogue to take place. Otherwise we end up just tilting at windmills.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

The Augsburg Confession, Art X: Our churches teach that the body and blood of Christ are truly present and are distributed to those who eat in the Supper of thye Lord. they disapprove of those who teach otherwise.

The Smalcald Articles, VI. The Sacrament of the Altar: We hold that the bread and wine in the Supper are the true body and blood of Christ and that these are given and received not only by godly but also by wicked Christians.

This is official doctrine of the Lutheran Church.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

John,
A further thought on your Baptist past - as I said, quoting a German expression, we cannot escape our shadow (i.e. our past), it is always with us. But sometimes in attempting to escape it we discard somethingof vital importance. The Baptists have taken a thoroughly Biblical theolog of the Word and exaggerated it to the point of distortion. The answer, I suggest, is not to discard the Word entirely, but to restore the proper balance.
Of course, wroship is not meant to be a purely cerebral experience, I totally agree with you, the body and senses take part in it as well, because in this earthly life we are a unity; but the mind is integral to worship..."Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind."
Do you see what I'm getting at?